Book Review – Aquarium Plants by Christel Kasselmann

July 4, 2008 at 4:49 pm | Posted in books, cryptocoryne | 1 Comment

Aquarists of the planted tank hobby should be not unfamiliar with Kasselmann’s book “Aquarium Plants”. Herr Kasselmann is a respected aquarist, the chief editor of the famed publication, Aqua Planta as well as noted author of several books on aquaria hobby, the current title showcased here being probably the most well-known and widely owned.

The content pages

 One of the numerous strengths of this book is its discussion on the science behind the survival and evolution of these aquatic plants, e.g. understanding their inflorescence morphology, pollination and reproduction biology, detailed information on the water chemistry of various types of water systems. It provides the reader, presumably an aquaria enthusiast, with information which might not be readily available  otherwise.

And the reason why this is a must-have for crypt fanatics is its coverage on these aquatic aroids, which is the most extensive to date in aquarium literature.  Not only are there pictures of inflorescence for ease of identification, there are also photographs of crypt localities taken in situ by the author during his crypt hunting days, most notably with Bogner to Sri Lanka. One can only drool and dream about visiting these sites someday.

What’s even more curious is his inclusion of the taxa from the genus Laganendra, amphibious aroids which are closely related to their Cryptocoryne cousins but one would not necessarily associate them as being “aquatic”, let alone being used in aquascapes. Has it been done before even!? This section is refreshing and nonetheless valuable, as finding information on Laganendra spp. is as difficult as getting a wooden chicken to lay eggs, or as I always tell my students, getting papayas to grow on watermelon trees. The premise of the argument is of course, watermelons don’t grow on trees in the first place!

If one was to find fault with this publication in deliberation, one could probably only criticise that the information in the book is not as updated as we would have wished. Sounds familiar? 🙂 Some taxon like “C. diderici ” had already been lower to a morph of C. cordata. Same with ‘“C. zewaldiae” being synonymised as C. minima variants from Sumatra. It would be even better if it had contained information on the demands of an emerse crypt setup and related aroid species. A  large pullout map denoting the distribution of the various Cryptocoryne species would be great, more precise information down to the last bearing on collection locality would be ideal but then again, that would be just shameless nit-picking from the forever insatiable. 🙂

In summary, its a very enjoyable book both in textual and graphical content. It is a book to be savoured by both emerse crypt lovers and general aquaria hobbyists who wants to know more about these green thingies they deal with, be it an a master scaping artist or a Day 1 novice. I most certainly did.


Cryptcoryne xpurpurea – Yet another can of worms…

June 27, 2008 at 1:45 pm | Posted in cryptocoryne | 2 Comments

Hybrids have always been the most interesting group to study. While creating laboratory frankensteins is generally frowned upon by many, on the basis of ethical concerns, the occurrence of natural hybrids has astound countless. The driving motivations and mechanisms behind the hybridisation process, the reproduction biology of the hybrids and their survival are just some questions whose answers scientists are still working on.

Hybridisation occurrence in lower form organisms have long been recognised by researchers, with plants hybrids being far more rampant than animals. With many of them being polyploidic, the ability to form hybrids all so readily is much more common in plants, most noted in plants which have developed an ornamental use, e.g. orchids and pitcher plants. The number of orchid hybrids produced by the Singapore Botanic Gardens is so numerous, the records of well-known or famously-named ones are thick enough to be compiled into copious volumes (See Sander’s works on documenting orchid hybrids). The common occurrence of plant hybrids has made us almost take them for granted, like one couldn’t care less about Nepenthes xhookeriana, which is formed from the hybridisation of N. ampullaria and N. rafflesiana. Well, at least most folks don’t.

Natural hybridisation of Cryptocoryne spp. in comparison are far less common and precisely so, attracted quite a fair bit of attention from researchers and hobbyists alike. In Sri Lanka, we have C. xwillisii, previously C. nevillii, whose parentage has always been a source of mystery and confusion for many. Then there’s the famous C. xtimahensis whose narrow distribution has caused much of a mayhem within the crypt fanatics circle, especially in Japan where prices of a single stalk escalated to an unbelievable price of USD200. Then again, Japanese have always been known to pay the top dollar for anything new and crazy. Anyway, we’ve digressed…

A most recent contender in this world of hybrids is probably C. sp. “Kota Tinggi” which is postulated to be a hybrid formed from 3 species which can be found in the southern parts of Peninsula Malaysia. But as to which species the parentage turned out to be, this can of worms we leave it to the scientists to open.

And as if issues are not complex as they are already, a hybrid may formed from species which themselves exhibit geographical and morphological variation resulting in a permutation of possibilities. And C. xpurpurea provided that exact twist to the tale. C. xpurpurea, initially thought to be a species in its own right was first known from its variant found in Tasik Bera, Pahang, Peninsula Malaysia. The irony is said that when Rubber Ridley first found and cultivated it from specimens collected from Kota Tinggi, he exclaimed that this was the most easily cultivated species. Big words from a … well, big man. This claim was further backed up by De Wit more than half a century later (1964) who claimed it to be the most widely cultivated aquarium species in Europe at his point of writing.  Strange it seems that it seems like their claims turned out to be curses as this taxon completely vanquished itself from the aquarium trade for the next 50 years. Its circulation had never been revived since. Jacobsen classified this as a hybrid from C. griffithii and C. cordata var. cordata and promptly named it C. xpurpurea nothovar. purpurea; nothovar being the ICBN term for variation within hybrids. The secret population in Southern Johor, once thought to be lost has been rediscovered by Sasaki but this variant is  most famoulsy known from the protected conservation sites in Tasik Bera. Kudos to Ms. Sim Cheng Hua for her work in collaboration with Ramsar on its conservation. It has even made it onto a stamp in Malaysia!

Another variant to this hybrid was discovered by Sasaki in 1999 in Sampit, Kalimantan Tengah which was named by Jacobsen in 2002 as C. xpurpurea nothovar. borneoensis. Parentage traces back to C. griffithii and another variant of the cordata complex, C. cordata var. zonata. So does the story end here? Far from it…

According to Sasaki, the localities in the Sampit-Kasangan area yield loads of similarly looking crypts from various forms and colour morphs of C. cordata to C. edithae to undeterminable “cf.” forms of these two species. To add more spice to the “fun”, some forms of C. cordata are basically indiscriminate from C. edithae themselves!!!

A couple of years later, interesting news came from the northern parts of Borneo, from Lundu Sarawak where another “form” of C. xpurpurea seems to have been found. But then again, the big question is, “Is it C. xpurpurea?” C. griffthii ‘s distribution on this large island is known from Banjarmasin and the other selatan areas mentioned above with no known records in Sarawak. Then again, do the parent species have to be found alongside/near the hybrid localities? Apparently not as hypothesised for C. xtimahensis whose parentage are widely thought to be C. nurii and C. cordata var. cordata, both not found on this small red dot. Michael Lo, who saw the inflorescence in situ in Feb 2007 postulated this hybrid to be formed from C. cordata var. zonata and C. longicauda, the latter a widely distributed blackwater species in Sarawak. This new kid on the block is currently known as C. xpurpurea “Lundu”.

 I had the opportunity for some specimens in Mar 2008 and one of them promptly sent out a spathe for me about 3 months later.

 When I discovered the spathe, it was already quite developed, hence the duration of the “spathing” process could not be determined. The spathe looks rather different from the one Michael saw in his field trip, but such deviation could be expected given the differences in cultivation conditions.

Closeup of kettle contents

This is a rather easy crypt to cultivate in emerse conditions, given blackwater conditions. It sends of shoots rather prolifically and certainly took a very short time to become established when conditions are fulfilled. It makes a good “test drive” for anyone who wishes to venture into blackwater crypts and should do so before attempting more challenging species.



The colourful world of C. minima

May 14, 2008 at 12:59 pm | Posted in cryptocoryne | Leave a comment

Of all the Cyptocoryne species, the one which is arguably one of the most intriguing is Cryptocoryne minima. It has a reasonably wide distribution with variants found in several parts in Peninsula Malaysia from Perak to Selangor. And there are even forms which are found on the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. “So what?” one might think. C. ciliata can be found from India all the way to Papua. C. longicauda could be found in abundance in Borneo and have had records in the southern states of Johor as well as Pulau Bangka off  the eastern coast of Sumatra and even within the tributaries of Central Sumatra! C. cordata, as I’d mentioned in an earlier posting too, has a fairly wide distribution. So what makes C. minima so intriguing?

C. minima  is the only crypt species to date that exhibits a myriad of psychedelic colours in their spathe limbs across geographical variants and had caused researchers in the past to have described ‘new species’ out of them, i.e. “C. amicorum” , “C. gasseri“, “C. zewaldiae” out of them. Jacobsen however lowered these to geographical forms of the same taxon, and this has become the widely accepted school of thought. This unsurpassable display of a broad spectrum of polychromatic forms is a definite first in Cryptocoryne morphology and perhaps extending to even those from the other genera of the massive Araceae family.

Last June, I had the opportunity to travel north to the state of Perak in Peninsula Malaysia to sample a population of C. minima. This unique locality is known to produce spathes of two colour morphs – one yellow, and the other, purple. Failing to see any opened spathes, specimens from two locations were sampled. Regrettably only the yellow form was collected, from the colour of the spathes which were sent out subsequently.  

C. minima is a very prolific bloomer. The Pondok Tanjung variant i have seem to be sending out spathes all year round!

These bloomed sometime in earlier Dec 2007. Not been checking my crypts very vigilantly then and missed out on the first few days of the bloom. Bad news – the limb was “limpy” when I saw the spathes. Not the best shots… oh well… The good news – another spathe was developing the same pot.

The 3rd spathe opened later. Took the opportunity to get a better shot. Now we know why they are called ” minima”. The spathes are rather small compared to other crypt species. The size is probably comparable to that of C. pygmaea, another species noted for their “petite” quality. I have not seen my C. pygmaea in flower before. Hopefull these two species can throw out spathes at the same time for a good comparison!

Notice how long the spathe limb is. Seems to be longer than the main body (tube + kettle) of the spathe! Love the surface texture!

Another pot sent out spathes in March. Didn’t bother taking anymore pictures as I thought I had a good clear shot from previous blooms. Need to wait for one to bloom to check out its “gut contents”!

Recently received specimens of C. minima from Tanjung Malim, another site lies at the borders of Perak and Selangor. Wonder what their spathes would turn out to be like. Let me know if you have interesting variants of C. minima for exchange. 🙂




Tropica Online Catalogue

May 7, 2008 at 12:58 pm | Posted in cryptocoryne | Leave a comment

Found an online plant catalogue by Tropica. More updated compared to the printed form which I’d bought 2-3 years back. Helpful for those who want to know a bit more about the aquatic plants common in the market. The pages are interactive and can be downloaded for offline reference. Still trying to figure out a way to download the manual as a whole though.

Tropica is of course the world’s leading exporter of aquatic plants suitable for the planted tank. Based in Denmark, they have specialised greenhouses to cultivate plants from the tropics ensuring a constant supply throughout the world. But it is of course worthy to note that part of their stock cultivation process is  “outsourced” to plant farms all over the world, one of the most noted ones being Oriental Aquarium Pte. Ltd. in Singapore (

Hence many of Tropica’s plants in its catalogue were actually flown from Singapore to Denmark, before making their way back here again, via Tropica’s local distributor in Singapore, Far East Aquatics at Simon Road. So, it comes as no surprise that it didn’t take long for Singaporean hobbyists found ways to bypass this channel,  to purchase “Tropica” quality plants without having to pay for the premium of their “return airtickets” to and fro Denmark. 🙂




Red-leafed cordata

May 7, 2008 at 8:40 am | Posted in cryptocoryne | Leave a comment

Cryptocoryne cordata var. cordata is a very common crypt species in Peninsula Malaysia, probably surpassed by only C. ciliata in terms of distribution. It has several geographical forms which can be found on Sumatra “var. diderici and also across the South China Sea in Borneo e.g. “var. Gabrowski” and “var. zonata“. Apart from these, there are also interesting cultivars and forms e.g. “blassii” and the popular pink-veined form “Rosanevig” . The elusive C. edithae from Banjarmasin is another similar yet unique species. Thus, any attempt to unravel the taxa and forms within the “cordata complex” would be like opening a can of worms.

From last June’s collection, we found two crypts which resemble that of C. cordata var. cordata. One of them has an opened spathe typical of C. cordata var. cordata. Under cultivation, something interesting happened.

The leaves developed a brilliant reddish hue. We know that the development of tiny red-pinkish spots on the leaves members from the cordata complex is quite common. But to have the whole patch being red is quite unique (or at least I thought so!). This was initially attributed as a character found on young leaves. But as the leaves mature, the reddish hue seemed to persist. It would not be long before the whole plant exhibits such characteristics. Both pots I have are behaving similarly and leaves of runners are also red. Oddly, cultivation conditions e.g. fertilisation, lighting, water parameters have not changed dramatically over the last year or so. So what exactly is the trigger the plants to develop such intensely red leaves? Only time will tell…




Kota Tinggi – A Reprise Part 1 : schulzei

May 7, 2008 at 6:26 am | Posted in cryptocoryne, fieldtrip, nature | Leave a comment

Bright sunny morning on the last weekend of June 2007, Azmi, Old man Vincent, Edmund and I went on a fieldtrip to Kota Tinggi to visit some crypt collections there. This was a very last minute arrangement. None of us could commit our time to a proper fieldtrip but all of us were dying to get our feet wet somewhere. No nets this time round though… a full-fledged fieldtrip just for the group of amphibious aroids we all love, Cryptocoryne.

We met up at Lakeside MRT. Everyone was late. :p After about an hour from the designated meeting time, we were finally on our way across the causeway. Much to our surprise, clearing customs was a breeze on this weekend morning. Singaporeans are known to flock across the border for cheap groceries, cheap petrol, cheap makan, cheap shopping, cheap massages, pirated DVDs,  etc… perhaps not this weekend, I thought.

We stopped by a small “restoran” at Kampung Masjidee for its famous sambal prata. Apart from the usual curry and gula, this place serves their prata with sambal made from chilli padi! Sedap and shiok! Started with just a simple combo of one telur and one kosong. But couldn’t resist ordering another telur. Better don’t eat too much… would have problems finding place to berak later. :p

And after brief shopping at a provision shop for plastic bags and portable water, we were on our way to the first location, the home of Cryptocoryne schulzei.

This is a beautifully preserved location. Very low water levels and slow flowing due to the dry season in full swing. To my surprise, the population we immediately saw was not in deep shade but baking under the full sun. And yet, they are surviving well with spathes bursting open in full glory merely inches from one another. A spectacular sight to behold.

A emerse population with many opened spathes

 A standard portrait of an opened spathe.


 Most specimens have very short spathes. Some growing in deeper waters sent out longer spathes, and necessarily so to prevent the throat and tube from being flooded.

It was a real treat to observe a myriad display of foliage morphology.


Another population under shade had more subdued green leaves growing to a modest size.

An opened syncarpium. Seeds collected from within later grew into the large population of C. schulzei which I currently have. 🙂

Despite the sand + clay based (loamy?) substrate, a population of Barclaya sp. growing near by suggests that the waters are actually rather acidic.

And finally, what a spectacle to behold!


Kota Tinggi – A Reprise Part 2 : Kota Tinggi

May 2, 2008 at 4:13 pm | Posted in cryptocoryne, fieldtrip, nature | Leave a comment

This is a reprise of a fieldtrip report I’d put up on last year shortly after the crypt collection trip in Southern Peninsula Malaysia(PM). I thought it would be good to put it up here again. Special thanks to Azmi and old man Vincent for being such good sport and great pals!


24 Jun 2007 (Sunday)

Making use of my precious weekends, Azmi suggested visiting some cryptocoryne localities in Southern PM. He hasn’t been here in quite a while as well.  He’s like an amphibious creature trapped within the concrete jungles of modern civilisation. I’d longed for this trip for a long time now and the fresh air of the country would certainly do me some good. Vincent Mah is always good company. Too bad Rashid couldn’t join us. He’s gotta attend to his daughters as school reopens for a new semester the following day.

This is the second stop for the day actually. The first was C. schulzei (a field trip report reprise would follow suit soon so Akan Datang!). Back in the car, Azmi pre-empted us to be mentally prepared on what we were about to see – the deplorable state he’d witnessed the last time he was here. But that was some months back from this trip. Hopefully things had gotten better… and not made a turn for the worse… We kept our fingers crossed.

All of a sudden, we stopped in the middle of nowhere. No rivers, no jungle, no streams… a highly unlikely place to find a crypt I thought to myself. Here we are, facing a matured oil-palm plantation, not unlike those we’d seen along the way after cross the Causeway, and will certainly continue to see as we head north later.

There, somewhere tugged within this matured oil-palm plantation, was a small mudpool whose water levels had dropped to a pathetic low, barely reaching our ankles. The air reeked of an obnoxious stench, almost prompting us to heave the sambal prata from Kampung Masjidee we’d savoured with much delight earlier in the morning. True enough, there was an infestation of cyanobacteria within that stagnant pool. To call it a mud pool seemed much of an overrating really. But there seems to be no appropriate term for it. The place is basically nondescript. Deplorable seemed much of an understatement now. And there it was, in the middle of “nothing” was an open spathe of Cryptocoryne sp. Kota Tinggi, a likely natural hybrid of the other Crypt species that can be found in PM.

         The small population was confined to a space no bigger than a queen-sized bed.  We weren’t sure if there are other populations of this Kota Tinggi crypt elsewhere. We certainly hoped that there are as this population, at the rate things are going, would hardly be able to sustain itself over long periods of time. From what we can see, we weren’t the only ones who had been here recently; there were signs of plants being removed from the place.

 A little effluent running through the plantation


The “mud pool”


Some matured specimens collected, with rust-colored undersides, very narrowly ovate leaves.

 Some young runners display a very interesting morph – limegreen lancolate leaves. Couldn’t have mistaken it for another species if not for the leaves of the old plant from which the runners were sent out from.

 In the same locality, we also found Cryptocoryne cordata var. cordata

“Close up” of the spathe. No macro shots though as I was carrying my trusty o’ Fuji S5000 P&S and not the NIkon.

Here, old man Vincent also found another population of a Cryptocoryne spp. The leaves look cordated but has markings which seem atypical of C. cordata var. cordata. Brought some specimens back. Just have to get them to send out spathes to reveal its true identity now. Perhaps it’ll turn out to be another population of C. sp. Kota Tinggi.



The old oil palm trees’ dense canopy foliage provided shade and most importantly, a means to reduce ground level water evaporation to enable this crypt to survive till now. Once the plantation becomes officially expired, the logging of the palms would bring about the demise of the crypt population as without the cover provided by the towering cash crop, it is almost certain that the crypts would bake to death under the blazing equatorial sun.

Cryptocoryne sp. Kota Tinggi is not difficult to cultivate under emerse conditions and it has been well-circulated within the hobby over the last 2 years. An acidic peat moss substrate would perfectly do the trick. It sends runners rather slowly but when the conditions are conducive, one would be invariably rewarded by its unique inflorescence.



Crypt. sp. Kota Tinggi

April 30, 2008 at 4:19 am | Posted in cryptocoryne | Leave a comment

After much anticipation, it finally sent out a spathe this Apr. This specimen was collected at the end of last June (2007) together with Azmi and old man Vincent at Kota Tinggi. Before reaching the place, Azmi had pre-empted us that the place is in a deplorable state with the “locality” being reduced to an extremely shallow mud pool on his last visit to the abandoned plantation, clinging on to the edge of mortality. We were told not to bear to much expectations if we not to find anyting left. We don’t know what to make out of it. A description of the field-trip was posted on last year. It would be shortly reprised here later.

During the fieldtrip, I’d collected two specimens for myself. One large one with two growths, and this little fella which had barely a few leaves. I was quite surprised to see how robust the plants were despite the growing conditions, and how little they have evolved over the year or so in my care. the foliage remained dark and big and the tail reached a towering height of close to 20 cm from the kettle at the point of opening. Most crypts undertake quite dramatic changes in foliage and sometimes even inflorescence appearance when brought into cultivation. The initial development of the spathe began on April Fools’ Day (what a joke right!?) and took about 3 weeks or so before opening. And it “bloomed” ever so beautifully as the ones we saw back in Kota Tinggi.

First day upon opening

Second Day, notice how the tail had changed.

The sexy curvatures of the “rear” view

A closeup of the limb, revealing very crinkled textures, golden yellow ends and a somewhat yellowish throat.

Close up of the kettle and the tube. Notice how the tube develops a distinct ‘twist & twirl” which bears striking difference to my specimens of C. schulzei which also sent out spathes around the same time.

Finally, a closeup of the kettle content. About 6 female flowers and a few dozens of male flowers. Yellow valve. First try at cutting open the kettle with the spathe being still on the plant. Rather shaky hands as I was nervously trying to avoid chomping off the leaves! So quite a shabby job I must say.

I’m glad to be able to see it in full glory again. Removed the spathe after the photo-shoot and how it’s time to plump it up again with fertilisation. the bigger specimen has now 2 plantets running and should be ready to go anytime soon. Any takers? 🙂






Crypt. bangkaensis

April 29, 2008 at 3:54 pm | Posted in cryptocoryne | 3 Comments

Previously thought to be the same as C. scurrilis, this form was raised to taxon level last year and named C. bangkaensis, after one of the Indonesian islands of the coast of Sumarta which it can be found. Roland got this from Kai Witte (as C. scurrilis) sometime back and upon which, got the IDs mixed up. We were both bewildered when we saw the open spathe earlier this month. Nothing we had seen before. A quick posting on APC and a look at the identification keys from the description paper in AquaPlanta revealed a pleasant surprise.

The spathe

Closeup of the limb

Somewhat warty limb

Peek inside the kettle

How small the spathe actually is





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